Every year we see it at Kentucky. A bunch of 19-year old kids leave school after just one year, as they enter the NBA draft. They leave behind an incomplete education with hopes of making millions in professional basketball.
Kentucky isn’t the only school where this is happening though, as it has morphed into a problem across the entire NCAA landscape. This “one and done” phenomenon is a product of the NBA’s rule requiring players to spend one year in college or playing overseas before entering the league’s rookie draft. This leads to several, I won’t say all, student-athletes heading to school to essentially major in basketball.
They take a couple of classes to keep their GPA up to be eligible for the basketball season and then leave school after one year with no real education. This year, we saw potential number one overall pick Ben Simmons withdraw from classes early, after the season had ended so he could focus on training for the upcoming draft combine.
Many of these players make millions at the next and have no need for an education, but for those who fall through the cracks and fail to take hold in the league, they suddenly find themselves out of a job without a college education.
The quality of play has dropped off as well. Back in the best days of college basketball, you had players staying for three or four years at their respective schools, developing into polished players before making the jump to the pros.
Think back to the days when Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, James Worthy, Patrick Ewing and so many others stayed in school long enough to become superstars and transcend college programs. College basketball lacks that right now, with very few of the game’s top players staying for more than a year at the collegiate level.
That is what college basketball needs to increase the level of play again. The NBA could use the same thing to be honest. Most of these rookies enter the league and require a year or two essentially sitting on the bench or playing in the D-league because they aren’t ready to compete at the next level yet. Very few come in as polished products ready to contribute on day one.
Look at Tyler Ennis as an example. He had one great year at Syracuse and then decided to make the jump to the pros. Ennis would have benefited from another year in college, but as a result of the one and done culture, felt that he needed to enter the draft. Over the last two years, Ennis has only played 79 games, averaging around 14 minutes per game. He is constantly bouncing back and forth from the NBA to the D-league and while he is still young, his NBA career has gotten off to a very slow start.
Ennis is far from the only one either. Anthony Bennett failed to translate to the NBA after just one season an UNLV. Austin Rivers is still only a role piece as he left Duke after just one year.
To solve all of these issues, the NCAA and the NBA needs to work out a new structure for how long college athletes must stay in school and about the requirements of going to school.
The NCAA should adopt a system similar to what it has set up for college baseball. Players are not require to play a year before entering the professional draft. However, if these high schoolers decide to attend a college as a student-athlete, they must spend three years at the school before they can enter the draft. I would also like to add some other provisions as well.
Universities would be required to honor a player’s scholarship if he chose to come back and finish his degree after his playing days had ended or if he decided to complete it during the summer. They would also be required to honor the scholarship of student-athletes in the event of an injury that cost them their career.
This system would actually solve so many different issues. First and foremost, players would finally have a more complete education having to finish three years of school rather than just one. That additional year required to finish most undergraduate degrees would be much easier to complete at a later time and the athletes would have it covered by their scholarship. The student-athletes would also be able to continue their education in the event of an injury, which happens way too frequently and results in a loss of scholarship.
While it seems like the NCAA is giving up a lot here, there would be some major benefits. To start, they would see a huge jump in the quality of play for college basketball. With players staying school longer, they can become more marketable to fans and television networks, meaning an uptick in revenue.
The schools would also see an increase in Academic Progress Ratings. The NCAA describes this as, “hold[ing] institutions accountable for the academic progress of their student-athletes through a team-based metric that accounts for the eligibility and retention of each student-athlete for each academic term.” With a higher retention rate and increased graduation rates of players, schools would be able to boost their ratings.
College basketball as a whole would benefit from this system as the talent would begin to spread. With student-athletes staying school longer, coaches would not need to recruit as heavily each year, which would mean that players would have to start looking at schools other than the traditional powerhouses if they wanted playing time right away.
We would also see an improvement in play at the NBA level. The guys who are ready to compete right out of high school would no longer have to waste a year playing college ball without a real educate in place. There are still plenty of them that transition seamlessly into the pros after just one season in college. Those who need a little time to develop would have three whole years to hone their skills and refine their game before jumping to the NBA. That would lead to an increase in pro-ready prospects.
This system is not perfect, but it is certainly a step in the right direction when it comes to repairing the current dysfunctional method to college basketball.